Heath Shuler receives NCAA Silver Anniversary Award

Knoxville, Tenn. (WVLT)— Heath Shuler has always been cool under pressure.
In 1992, Shuler, a sophomore quarterback for the Vols, directed a 14-play, 80-yard drive in the final minutes to give Tennessee a 34-31 comeback victory over No. 14 Georgia in Athens.
The game’s pivotal play came on fourth-and-14 and Phillip Fulmer remembers it well. It’s the moment he knew his quarterback would be successful in life and not just on the football field.
“We bring Heath to the sideline and we are talking about the play we are going to run,” Fulmer said. “He’s got a big old smile on his face. He reaches behind me and pats me on the rear. We give him in the play and he says ‘Coach, we got this.’ He goes out there and sticks it in there.”
Shuler’s unflappable demeanor served him well as a U.S. Congressman years later (2007-2013). After an outstanding football career where he finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and was drafted with the No. 3 overall pick by the Washington Redskins, Shuler turned his attention to service. He finished his degree at Tennessee and won a spot in Congress, representing his home state of North Carolina. He now runs a business consulting firm and coaches high school football at Christ School in Arden, N.C.
On Wednesday night at the NCAA Convention, Shuler collected another accomplishment when he was recognized with one of college athletics’ most prestigious honors: the Silver Anniversary Award.
Shuler received the honor along with Mia Hamm, Jason Varitek, David Hirsch, Lisa Leslie and Tim Cullen for their collegiate and professional achievements over the last 25 years.
Fulmer, now UT’s Director of Athletics, was fittingly at his side at the banquet. Shuler praised his time at Tennessee.
“When I think of Tennessee I think of life-changing,” Shuler said. “This could not have happened if not for the very first choice I made as a young adult – which college would I go to. Choosing the University of Tennessee was the first great decision that I made in my life.
“There’s no greater moment than when you run through the T the first time. I think the other thing is just sitting in the meeting rooms. There was times when I was trying to make decisions in my life and to be able to have Coach Fulmer put his arm around me and be that second dad when my father was no on campus.”
Along with Fulmer, Shuler credits then-offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, longtime athletics administrator Carmen Tegano and political science professor Michael Fitzgerald for providing him with a support system of mentors who set him on the path to success on and off the field.
“They made me a better person,” Shuler said. “Watching how they were dads and husbands … they helped me mature as a person. David and Phillip both really put their arms around me, and they became that father figure and person you could look to for me.”
As the top quarterback prospect in 1994, Shuler left school early with one year of eligibility left and enjoyed a five-year NFL career with the Redskins and New Orleans Saints before injuries forced him to retire. He always felt the pull of Rocky Top, however, and returned to school to complete his psychology degree.
“It’s about finishing,” Shuler said. “We talk about finish the play – finish the season strong. To be able to finish what I started. It’s important to get a college education. It’s important to use the degree in some capacity. Athletics are great, but they last for a small period of time. With that diploma you can tell that next generation ‘I finished strong.’”
The Bryson City, N.C., native certainly has finished strong. He served three successful terms in Congress, making a lasting impact that can still be felt today.
“There’s no greater job than to be able to represent your community, your state and your country,” Shuler said. “It’s so important. I left my mark in many different places. When people look at me they talk about debt and deficit. How do we get our fiscal house back in order in the United States Congress? I could work across the aisle. I miss those days, but I don’t miss the politics.”
Since stepping away from Congress, Shuler has been able to spend more time with his family, but also follows his Vols as a fan. He likes what he sees – especially having his former head coach in charge of all athletics now.
“It means a lot the former players and it means a lot to Vol Nation to be able to have that type of leadership and a person we believe in,” Shuler said. “Coach Fulmer’s heart and soul is into making Tennessee a successful place both on and off the field.”